Translation, Transcreation, and Transliteration: What’s the Difference?

Translation vs Transcreation vs Transliterate

Written by Kristina Temelkova

I'm from Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and I'm currently pursuing an English degree at the University of Vienna. My lifelong passions are languages and writing. I speak English, Bulgarian, German and Russian.

March 9, 2021

What’s the difference between Translation, Transcreation, and Transliteration?

In this globalized world, translation has become an essential tool for success in various spheres such as business and communication. The ever-increasing demand for translation services and their wide application has led to the emergence of different language services.

Translation, Transcreation, and Transliteration

Translation, Transcreation, and Transliteration. These three terms sound very similar and it is easy to get confused. In fact, it is a common misconception that these terms can be used interchangeably.

The truth, however, is that translation, transcreation, and transliteration refer to three completely different processes.

This blog aims to dispel all shadow of a doubt you may have over these three terms. By providing you with more clarity on the matter, you will be able to choose the right service for your needs!

1. What is translation?

Translation has a long history. According to historians the first-ever translations of text date back to the 3rd century BCE. During the Middle Ages, Latin became the most influential language in Europe.

Hence, many works we know today actually translated from Latin. For instance, Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, England, initiated the translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy from Latin into the Anglo-Saxon vernacular.

Outside of Europe, the Arabs undertook the translation of scientific and philosophical works of the Ancient Greeks.

It was in the 14th century when the first translation in English made – Geoffrey Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale was an adaptation of Boccaccio’s epic poem Teseida in Italian.

Latin Translation

Source 

Undoubtedly, translation has come a long way since then. Nowadays technology has made its way into it. Machine translation, neural machine translation as well as post-editing machine translation are the leading trends in this sphere.

Although human translators play a central role in the process of translation, technology has definitely enabled them to do their job faster and more effectively.

But what exactly is translation?

To put it simply, translation is the process whereby the meaning of the source text conveyed in the target language. The main goal of translation is to keep the meaning and essence of the original text.

Many people think that when a translator works on a certain text, they translate it word for word and they tend to forget that different languages work differently in terms of punctuation, linguistic nuances, and structure.

Thus, the translator has to adapt the original text to the grammatical and punctuation norms of the target language as well as the culture aimed at. This whole translation process can turn into a rather creative wordplay.

Translators are required to have native-like proficiency in the languages they work with. Having additional degrees, certifications, and qualifications related to the languages and fields they work in is vital for a successful career in this industry.

Also read: How To Recruit The Right Translator

Some companies that avail translation services even insist that their translators are native in the language they translate into since a native speaker has a greater feeling for their mother tongue.

Still, knowing two languages fluently is not enough to do the job. Translators have usually additional qualifications in various fields of expertise such as law, marketing, medicine, etc. This ensures that they will be able to produce an excellent translation.

2. What is transcreation?

Transcreation is a translation process whereby the tone, intention, and style of the original text is maintained in the target text. Transcreation might even involve changing imagery, names of brands and products as well as adapting the slogan of a company to the new market or audience it is targeting.

transcreation

Source 

For instance, KFC’s slogan Finger-licking good! was adapted to the German-speaking market as Huhnwiderstehlich gut!. This is an excellent example of transcreation.

Similar to its’ English slogan, the brand has maintained the wordplay in its’ German transcreation. Huhn (pronounced as /hu:n/) means chicken in German which is the most frequently used ingredient in KFC’s products.

The team working on the transcreation of KFC’s slogan noticed how similarly Huhn sounds to the prefix un (pronounced as /un/) in unwiderstehlich (meaning irresistible in English). This is how Huhnwiderstehnlich gut! (meaning Irresistibly good!) was created.

KFC’s slogan

Source

KFC’s slogan is a great example of how transcreation works. Clearly, this a rather a creative process. Sometimes it might require a complete transformation of the content translated so that it can better resonate with the audience and the culture that the text targets.

How is translation different from transcreation?

Transcreation can be easily confused with translation. Thus, it is important to note these two terms denote two completely different processes. To put it simply, in transcreation, the transcreator offered more freedom of expression than in translation. This could the most distinctive difference between translation and transcreation.

While translation primarily focuses on communicating the meaning of a text and hence, relying more on using the right words, transcreation takes into consideration not only the meaning of a text, but also its’ style, tone, intent as well as the visual aspects of the source text and adapts it so that it aligns with the beliefs, culture, and traditions of the audience it is aimed at.

Transcreation could be seen as a creative translation of a text whereby the transcreator aims to adapt the main messages and concepts of the source text to the target text.

It is important to highlight the differences between the two processes and to emphasize the importance of understanding how each works. Below you can read the main differences between these two services:

Translation vs. Transcreation

  1. Transcreators are not translators. In other words, translation and transcreation are two different services. Usually, the specialists who provide transcreation services are bilingual copywriters.
  2. Creative brief. While translation starts with a source text, the process of transcreation the creative brief comes first. It contains the most important messages, target audience, and concepts that should be included in the target text. Once all the ideas, intentions, and general concepts of the project are cleared out, the transcreation process could start.
  3. New message. The aim of transcreation is to adapt a message from one culture to a new one. This oftentimes results in a completely new localized message. In the process of translation, however, usually, the sense of the message is maintained – it is only the words that are changed.
  4. Rather a costly service. While translators are paid depending on the word count, transcreators are billed by the whole project or per hour. The reason for it is pretty simple – word count does not reflect the actual work the transcreator has done.
  5. Time-consuming. Transcreation usually takes a longer time than translation since this a more creative process.
  6. Feedback is essential. The main aim of transcreation is to adapt the source content to a new culture. When working on such project feedback is key. Thus, transcreation service providers oftentimes ask their customers for feedback to make sure that the central concept of the brand or the content remains intact.
  7. Marketing oriented. While translators work in all kinds of fields, the work of transcreators is very much limited to branding and marketing purposes.

3. What is transliteration?

The transliteration is yet another term that is frequently misunderstood as interchangeable with translation.

Transliteration refers to the process whereby a word or a phrase is transformed from one writing system to another.

For instance, if we have a word in Russian (e.g. “бабушка“, meaning “grandmother”), written in Cyrillic, we can write it with Latin letters (“babushka”). You can see other examples of transliteration:

Transliteration

Source

Transliteration differs from both translation and transcreation because it does not involve switching between languages, but rather switching between writing systems.

If we go back to the example above, we didn’t translate the Russian word for grandmother into another language, we simply wrote it with Latin letters rather than Cyrillic.

Also Read: 10 Facts You Never Knew About the Russian Language

Transliteration vs translation?

Simply put, transliteration does not tell you what a word means, but it helps you understand how it is pronounced. In this way words are written in the Cyrillic alphabet or with Japanese symbols, for instance, are made accessible to people who can read the Latin writing system.

Also, it should be noted out that proper names do not have standard spelling rules when transliterated. Hence names such as Muhammad can be spelled in various ways (e.g. Mohamed, Mohammad, or Mahomet).

As I have pointed out above transliteration puts emphasis on pronunciation over meaning. This is extremely useful in situations when it comes to referring to different cultures.

If we go back to the Russian language and culture there are certain words (e.g. sputnik, vodka, Bolshevik, tsar) that are now widely used in the English language, however, many people do not realize these are simply Russian words transliterated into the Latin alphabet. What’s more, these words are closely associated with the Russian culture and are usually used in exactly this context.

What’s more, you might be surprised but transliteration is commonly used in our daily life. For instance, it will be nearly impossible to understand the news if it wasn’t for transliteration. Not many of us will understand that Кремль or 京 refer to Kremlin and Beijing, respectively.

Besides the news, transliteration is widely used in restaurants menus where specific foods are transliterated into another writing system so that the customers can pronounce their names.

Transliteration is used in search engines of all kinds as well. Transliteration enables people to search for content in various writing systems.

Although the term transliteration is rather confusing, this process is an essential part of our everyday life.

4. How to choose the right service?

Now that we have cleared up the confusion surrounding the terms translation, transcreation, and transliteration, comes the most important question: Which one is right for you and your project?

Choosing right Translation agency

Choosing the right service might seem like a hard decision to make. Indeed, it is!

Still, we can offer you a little trick to make your decision a bit easier. As a rule of thumb, the following could be said for these three services:

  • Translation is used for legal, medical, and general content where the end goal is comprehensibility, and hence, the accuracy of the target text is essential.
  • Transcreation is used mainly for marketing and advertising content where creativity is crucial for catching the audience’s attention.
  • Transliteration is utilized for brand names, acronyms, names of people, and products. In these cases, pronunciation is more important than the meaning of the word itself.

Clearly, the quality of the translation of your project will inevitably affect your success. A bad translation could damage your brand image or your sales. On the contrary, with a well-done translation, you will definitely hit a home run!

Also Read: 10 Marketing Translation Mistakes by Big Brands

What’s more, in some cases, choosing a single service would not be the most optimal decision. Some projects require the use of two or more services to ensure excellent results. Thus, it is advisable to contact a professional service provider.

Companies, providing translation, transcreation,  and transliteration services, work with teams of professionals who are highly qualified to do all the work on your project.

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